Hi all, here is a blog LeAnne Grillo and I wrote for the Systems in Action Conference. Enjoy and use any bits you may find interesting:
It is not just about playing more, it is about playing better! This was one of the key messages of Bart Victor, one of the professors who helped LEGO develop their play-based strategy process. And, one could argue, it has always been the very purpose of LEGO. Originally, LEGO wanted to help children play better, so that they could unleash their full potential while having fun—and they called it “hard fun.”
Bart put it that way—“better” rather than “more” playing, because while some organizations were indeed playing—it wasn’t intentional and it was not set up to get the most out of it. Organizations had so much more to gain. “Play is our natural way of adapting and developing new skills. It is what prepares us for emergence, and keeps us open to serendipity, to new opportunities.” (Brown Stuart: ”Play”, Avery, 2009).
Borrowing from Theory U terminology, we have observed that play creates a safe space where participants are comfortable with suspending judgement, fear, and cynicism and can really engage in co-creating shared solutions.
Paradoxically, the current economic climate calls out for the power that play holds when it comes to shifting thinking and reframing complex challenges, yet it (the current climate) induces a stifling fear or stress that means many senior leaders shy away from play. We find this sad because play is our key survival and adaptation mechanism. In addition it “gives us the irony to deal with paradox. Ambiguity and fatalism” (Brown Stuart: ”Play”, Avery, 2009), and who doesn’t need that in times like these?
So how do we fully use play as an organizational capacity?
One way is by simply allowing people to meet in order to play—to let them access and reclaim their imagination. Creativity and imagination are often shut down in the workplace because we need to “get real work done,” but those are exactly the capacities we need now. Some of our greatest innovations come from idle doodling on the back of a napkin or putting LEGO bricks together while we’re playing with our children. Without the opportunity to imagine new things, we all tend to reproduce the old solutions which are exactly what got us in the mess we are in!
If we build our capacity to access imagination through play—and become more intentional by focusing our play on specific challenges, we can tap into huge reservoirs of experience and understanding that often gets suppressed or left behind. We can also make the invisible visible—the implicit, explicit. When we construct models using LEGO bricks of what we think is happening in our organizations, we are not only constructing new knowledge for ourselves, we are also sharing our understandings–our mental models with others—and we are doing it in a compelling way. Then, by telling the stories of our models, we express a more vivid and real picture of how we see what’s going on. When a team does this together, they can see where models are similar and where they are different, and often are surprised by that. Plus, we can find leverage points for innovation and transformation. By working with our hands and playing with LEGO bricks, we can access our deeper knowing—and find options and possibilities that have not yet reached our consciousness yet.
Now, this may require a bit of a leap of faith. But there is actually science and the results to back it up, the previously mentioned work by Stuart Brown springs to mind.
As much as we would like to, we cannot make the world simpler and more predictable. But through types of structured “play,” like the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method we can easily create better outcomes more predictably.